9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Why isn't Powers better known in U.K.?,
This review is from: Galatea 2.2 (Paperback)
I discovered Richard Powers by accident. I found a copy of 'Gain' in a remaindered bookshop. It didn't look promising, with a picture of a tap and a bar of soap on the cover and a book description promising a corporate history of a soap-making company, but I vaguely remembered a faourable Updike reiew of 'Galatea 2.2' and thought it worth a shot. Later, I bought 'The Time of our singing', similarly reduced in price. Another rather lame title. Another over-literal cover design--black-and-white halves, with a black singer (too dark, in fact, for the character in the novel). The author's name also, on a subconscious level, put me off, with the dick-power associations of a pseudonymous author of macho thrillers. Both books languished on my shelves for months.
I now own all 9 Powers novels, and he has displaced Pynchon and Foster Wallace in my pantheon. His erudition is balanced by a powerful emotional punch that Pynchon never allows hiself, and the prose, though overwrought at times, constantly arrests, grabbing ones attention with startling similes, layered imagery and sudden changes of tone. Dialogue is contrived, mostly, but I'd rather read something that makes me think and wonder than something naturalistic. The themes are profound, I want to reread almost as soon as I've finished a Powers novel---quite simply, he's the greatest novelist I've read---and I've read a great many novels!
Any yet, when I mention his name to anyone, I just get a blank stare. What's the problem? I've alluded to some possibilities---his titles are often clunky and over-cute. 'Operation Wandering Soul', for example. 'Operation' because the protagonist (Richard Kraft---Power in German!) is a surgeon. 'The Gold Bug Variations'--punning, mildly embarrassing. The Time of our singing'---it's about singing, and it's about time! 'Gain', which sounds like the title of a boardroom blockbuster. Etcetera. When combined with the author's name (interestingly, in 'Galatea' he writes that he was advised to adopt a pseudonym--ironic, since his name already sounds like one) one feels disposed to misjudge the book by it's cover. The American covers I've seen, by the way, are far more tastefully designed than the British ones. Finally, all attempts to describe the plots (which, like the characters, are mostly vehicles for the ideas, and the virtuoso artistry of the prose) make the books sound awkward and contrived.
'Galatea 2.2' is a stunning book. I can't describe it. Just read it!